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Lay of the Land

Canada Fights Global Warming | Homer at the Helm | Fuel Economy Decline | W Watch | San Joaquin Valley Air Quality | California Marine Reserve | Bold Strokes | For the Record | Green Elephants | Loggers Against Logging | Sprawl | Little Chips, Big Impact | Updates

Bold Strokes

By Marilyn Berlin Snell

Personal Power Plant
For more than 20 years, one of the largest sources of energy in the United States has been efficiency–second only to oil. As president, Jimmy Carter made efficiency a cornerstone of a commonsense energy policy, and he continues to walk the talk with the nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity. This year, in conjunction with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Habitat will build 20 affordable "zero net-energy homes" in Tennessee that produce as much juice as they use. The houses use biomass turbines, solar electric systems, and insulation panels that are part of the building structure. Because they can be built at little or no extra cost, the average Joe can have a dream home that doesn’t drag on the earth’s resources or his wallet.

For those with a larger budget, homebuilder John Wesley Miller is providing slightly more luxurious accommodations in Tucson, Arizona, which can be hot as blazes in the summer. His urban subdivision (with homes beginning in the $200,000 range) already boasts houses with ultra-efficient masonry walls for insulation, double-pane windows, and solar-powered water heating–all of which reduce heating and cooling costs to less than a dollar a day on average. Not satisfied, Miller has broken ground on the next generation: a home that produces energy. A meter on the house will run backward to credit the owner when he or she puts unused power back on the grid. Both the Tennessee and Arizona efforts are the leading edge of the Department of Energy’s "Building America" program, which has so far put up 14,000 energy-efficient homes nationwide.

Witness Protection
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a verdant patchwork of small farms, has been losing more than 2,500 acres of agricultural land per year to sprawl. But the county also leads the nation in farm-saving efforts, so that Lancaster’s chickens will likely be laying omelet makings far into the future.

Since 1982, the county’s Agricultural Preserve Board and the Lancaster Farmland Trust have been gently nudging hundreds of property owners, a third of whom are Amish farmers, to sell or donate the development rights to their land. Called conservation easements, the agreements create permanent restrictions on land use. Nestled between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, the county is ripe for sprawl, but as of November 2002 the easements have saved 50,000 acres on 603 farms–including the Witness Farm, owned by an Amish family and used to film the eponymous 1985 Harrison Ford thriller.

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